Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in May - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Poet Trapeta B Mayson and Monnette Sudlerplaying the Sengoni | photo by Michael Donnella | courtesy of the artist

Only a quarter of the way in, 2018 is shaping up to be a banner year for jazz guitar. Bill Frisell recently released a solo masterpiece with Music IS, and we’ve gotten very strong new outings by Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson, Jakob Bro and Julian Lage – not to mention impressive sideman turns by Steve Cardenas and Nate Radley (with Adam Nussbaum), Ben Monder (with Dan Weiss), Liberty Ellman (with Henry Threadgill) and Gilad Hekselman (with John Raymond), to name a few.

On the local front, you can add Mike Kennedy to that list. The Philly guitarist is celebrating the release of his new album, Landfall, at Chris’ Jazz Café on May 10. The album looks westward in both the physical and metaphysical sense, suggesting wide open skies, roads winding through desert landscapes and stretching out past the horizon, a feeling of meditation and mythology that we associate with the American west. Throughout, Kennedy girds his resonant guitar tone in plangent pedal steel and ruggedly wistful melodies. [TIX / INFO]

You can’t talk about Philly and guitar without mentioning Monnette Sudler, of course, and the genre-defying master is bringing her annual Guitar Summit back within the city limits after six years in MontCo, taking place May 12 at World Café Live. The theme of the sixth annual Summit is “Strumming for Social Change,” but the draw is less the politics than the eclectic line-up. Sudler will lead her own sextet, with violinist Diane Monroe, pianist/composer Doug Carn, bassist Lee Smith, drummer Byron Landham and vocalist V. Shayne Frederick. They’ll share the bill with bop master Sonny Troy and avant-funk bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, the latter leading his band Nu Truth. [TIX / INFO]

Speaking of Philly jazz greats (and pivoting away from the guitar), that same weekend Chris’ Jazz Café will host a tribute to a bygone (in more ways than one) master from a modern one. Taking a break from the Bad Plus’ tireless touring, Orrin Evans will host his Captain Black Big Band in the “Sun Ra Suite,” an homage that the band premiered at Lincoln Center a few years back. While Evans’ band doesn’t go in for the dazzling costumes and sci-fi trappings of the Arkestra, there are plenty of parallels to be found between the two raucous, unpredictable ensembles. [TIX / INFO]

If you’re wondering what the rest of the Bad Plus is up to while Evans is busy, they’ll be at Johnny Brenda’s on May 24 as one-half of the new quartet Broken Shadows. The band pairs TBP’s bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King with saxophonists Tim Berne and Chris Speed, who made up half of the ferocious Bloodcount. Given everyone involved’s penchant for droll humor it’s somewhat surprising the band name isn’t some snarky mash-up of the two source ensembles, but the music itself promises an intriguing and exhilarating combo of their hard-driving sounds. [TIX / INFO]

The equally adventurous pianist Nik Bärtsch will bring the latest incarnation of his exploratory quartet Ronin to World Café Live on May 8. The Swiss band embodies the airy minimalism of their label ECM, which recently released their first album in six years. The title, Awase, is a martial arts term meaning “moving together,” which is fitting for a group that ventures fluidly from spacious atmospherics to propulsive angularity. [TIX / INFO]

Fans of the fusion era should just set up a tent outside South for the middle of the month. On May 16, drummer Mike Clark of Herbie Hancock’s pioneering Headhunters band will celebrate the release of his new album Retro Report, followed by three days of shows by legendary trumpeter (and Philly native) Randy Brecker. Bassist Gerald Veasley and his band will back up Brecker, one-half of the famed Brecker Brothers Band (with his late brother, sax icon Michael), and a session great who appeared on virtually everything that needed a trumpet in the late 70s and early 80s. [TIX / INFO]

The fact that 19-year old pianist Joseph Block is wrapping up his first year at Columbia and Juilliard is impressive enough, but that’s just the latest in a growing list of accomplishments for the Philly prodigy. He co-founded the Philadelphia Ambassador Big Band at 16 while studying at the Clef Club, the same year he won the Essentially Ellington composition contest at Lincoln Center. That earned him accolades from Wynton Marsalis and a chance to conduct the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a performance of the piece. Later this year, Terell Stafford’s Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia will premiere his Kimmel Center-commissioned arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” But he’ll be celebrating his freshman year homecoming at Matt Yaple’s @exuberance on May 25, leading a gifted young quartet with trumpeter Anthony Hervey, bassist Nathan Pence, and drummer Andreu Pitarch Mach. [INFO]

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